To find a tax pro for your business or personal taxes isn’t quite as simple as it once was, but maybe that’s for the best. Whereas much of the tax and accounting industry was built on Word of Mouth (i.e., referrals from friends, family, and colleagues), consumers now have a middleman to help them in the process: the internet.
While referrals are still a great way to find a great tax pro—82% of Americans say they seek recommendations from friends and family when considering a purchase—they don’t have to be the only way.
Good news for consumers
Maybe your needs are fairly specialized. Or you require a tax pro with the ability to advise for multiple states. Or you just want to look outside your network.
With internet research becoming an integral part of the process, consumers now have substantially more power than they once did. In the past, an unhappy client could only tell their personal and professional network if they had a bad experience with a tax professional.
Or they could stand out in front of the business telling prospects to steer clear, but that was probably less common.
In this day and age, tax professionals are on a higher standard. Any issue a client has with them—whether it was unprofessional behavior, a mistake in their tax preparation, or misrepresentation of their qualifications—can be instantly shared across countless platforms, ensuring that all future prospects will see it as soon as they start researching.
This gives tax professionals major motivation to make their clients as happy as possible so that they’ll leave positive reviews and boost the pro’s online reputation.
Now that is a win for consumers.
Knowing we as taxpayers have the upper hand in this search process, what are other ways we can find a qualified professional that meets our specific tax needs?
Use a directory to find your ideal match
If you aren’t starting out with specific names of tax pros from referrals (or even if you are), it can be helpful to use a directory to find professionals who fit all your requirements. For example, TaxBuzz has a free “Match Me” service that handpicks pros for you based on your specific service needs, your location, their reputation, and more.
Once you start looking through profiles, you’ll be able to view each professional’s credentials, background, reviews, and more. This can help you skip some of the other steps as it brings together many of the things you’ll be looking for.
Ask for a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN)
The IRS requires anyone who prepares federal tax returns for compensation to have a PTIN, and to include it along with their signature on your tax return. This isn’t something you want to find out about when all is said and done, so make sure to ask for it before they get started.
Decide about additional credentials (CPA, EA, etc.)
While there are plenty of outstanding tax preparers who have not obtained additional certifications, it can be helpful to know what other types of credentialed preparers are out there. If you want to go a step further, find someone who’s also a certified public accountant, a licensed attorney, enrolled agent, CRTP, or a pro who has completed the IRS’ Annual Filing Season program.
Check the reviews
Here’s where that upper hand for consumers comes in: it’s time to research the tax pro’s reputation among past clients. Were they happy with the services provided? Did any of the clients have similar needs to yours? How well-established is this professional?
Reviews can tell you a lot – from what it’s like to actually be a client of the tax pro to whether there are any shady spots in their history. Take advantage of these free insights and use them wisely.
Keep an eye on pricing
First thing’s first: avoid any preparer who bases their fees on a percentage of your refund, as this is a violation of IRS rules.
Overall, the fee structure for your chosen pro should be clear. While prices often vary based on the complexity of your return (e.g., which forms you need, additional schedules, anything abnormal about your return requirements), if a preparer won’t talk about pricing, it’s a major red flag.
Realistically, you should be thinking past this tax season when you hire a professional. Are they helping you plan for tax savings beyond just this year? Should an audit or examination come, are they prepared (and qualified) to represent you in front of the IRS? Do they prioritize being available for clients—even outside of tax season?
All of these factors must be taken into consideration in order to find a licensed professional in the tax industry that can suit your needs. Even if you do get a referral from a friend or colleague, you still have the ability to do your own research as well—and we recommend it.